"The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) is concerned about the lack of black representation within the ranks of CNN's executive news managers and direct reports to CNN President Jeff Zucker," a Tuesday press release by the group states. "This concern, coupled with Zucker's refusal to meet with a four-person NABJ delegation, has prompted NABJ to place CNN on a special media monitoring list."
"A special team will perform further research and an analysis of CNN's diversity, inclusion and equity practices, per the NABJ Board's directive. The special team will also publicly report on identified deficiencies in hiring a diverse workforce in news decision-making capacities at CNN," the statement continues. "NABJ is also calling for a civil rights audit that examines the company's hiring, promotion and compensation practices involving black employees."
The advocacy group faulted CNN in four areas, noting that: "CNN President Jeff Zucker has no black direct reports; there are no black Executive Producers at CNN; there are no black Vice Presidents on the news side at CNN; and there are no black Senior Vice Presidents on the news side at CNN."
CNN disputed only one of these points, asserting that it does, in fact, have a black vice president on the news side of its staff. "However, when asked to provide the name and position of the individual or individuals involved on the editorial side of news, CNN has yet to provide specifics," NABJ noted.
In response, NABJ has decided to go over CNN's head and talk directly to its parent company AT&T, which it says "has responded positively to outreach efforts," noting the telecom giant didn't refuse to meet with its delegation. NABJ noted similar cooperation and openness from CNN's rival networks, like Fox, CBS, NBC and ABC.
However, the cause of CNN's rejection of the NABJ delegation isn't a mystery: the group included NABJ Vice President-Digital Roland Martin, who co-moderated a CNN-hosted town hall debate between Democratic primary presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in March 2016. Prior to that debate, CNN contributor Donna Brazile, who later became Democratic National Committee chair in July of that year, passed several of the debate questions to John Podesta, the head of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Hacked DNC emails published by WikiLeaks later that year, as well as subsequent confessions by Brazile, revealed and confirmed the scandal. The questions were part of Martin's research inquiry for the debate, NABJ noted.
NABJ characterized the dispute between Martin and CNN as "a personal issue," saying their request to meet with CNN "was and is focused on CNN's diversity efforts, its results and our strategic priorities as an organization."
Former CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien put the network on blast last August, too, when US President Donald Trump fired Omarosa Manigault, the only black person on his staff. While noting the problem of a lack of diversity in the White House, O'Brien, who left CNN in 2013, tweeted "walk me through the senior black staff at CNN…"
"The lack of diversity on the CNN executive staff is troubling," said Jacqueline Luqman, editor-in-chief of Luqman Nation, in an email statement to Sputnik Wednesday. "Unless we are to believe that CNN's staff simply does a bad job of updating their website, that lack of diversity can be plainly seen on the CNN Profiles page under CNN Leadership, so the claim of an African American vice president on the ‘news team' seems like an artful deflection," she said, noting the lack of clarity as to whether a news team is different from a leadership team.
"There is no reason in 2019 that any major news outlet does not have executive and news leadership and management staff that reflects at the very least the diversity of the content they claim to provide," she said.
Luqman told Sputnik that while it was "reasonable to question what Martin's role in the issue of the leaked question" was, this wasn't the appropriate context in which to raise that concern.
"We believe that is a separate issue from CNN's lack of diversity among the staff that makes decisions on the network's content. Of course, because of their tenuous relationship, executives at CNN have requested that Martin not be involved in any meetings between them and NABJ. Regardless, CNN has to do something about the lack of Black faces and thought among its executives, whether NABJ is willing to meet with CNN without Martin or not."
"This is why more Black news consumers are turning to what is emerging as the New Black Media — social and alternative media outlets like ours and those we appear on that are not only controlled by Black people or rely heavily on the contributions of Black journalists and commentators, but deliver content that is about Black people and the myriad aspects of our lives and our interactions with politics and policy domestically and abroad that is not covered by the CNNs of the world," Luqman said.
"While we applaud NABJ on their efforts, and challenge CNN to do better, Luqman Nation will continue to expand our platform in this New Black Media that is filling the void for Black people and our allies that is left by corporate media."